Concerts: The competition ramps up

Staff writerJanuary 3, 2010 

If all goes according to plan, a crowded landscape of concert venues is going to get even more so in 2010. Winding its way through the bureaucratic process is a 5,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater that will occupy the block just west of the convention center in downtown Raleigh.

It's tentatively set to open this summer. Live Nation, the mega-promoter that also operates Raleigh's city-owned Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek, has agreed to book 15 to 20 dates there a year.

"We think there's room for a lot more than that, too," says Roger Krupa with the City of Raleigh. "We've based our business projections on 17 shows, $35 a ticket and 3,000 attendance per show. That's very conservative, and it works for everybody."

While Live Nation will get first dibs on dates, other promoters would book events there as well. As proposed by the city, the facility will present acts along the lines of the schedule at Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta - acts such as The Fray, Hall & Oates, Seal and Tori Amos.

Where it gets complicated in the Triangle, however, is that there's already an outdoor venue working that territory. That's the 7,000-capacity Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary.

"If it truly is a 5,000-seat venue, it would be competition for us in a big way," says Booth general manager Becky Schmidt. "But we'll just have to sell the positive things about what we offer both artists and patrons, the experience here."

The new facility will have to find its niche among Booth, 20,000-capacity Walnut Creek and the 3,000-capacity N.C. Museum of Art; the similar-size Durham Performing Arts Center and Raleigh's slightly smaller Memorial Auditorium; various on-campus theaters such as Duke's Page Auditorium and UNC-Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall; and of course, Raleigh's 20,000-seat RBC Center.

They all have their niches. Walnut Creek's bread and butter is country, while Booth is home to N.C. Symphony's Summerfest and some comedy. Blues and folk rule at the N.C. Museum of Art, while Memorial and DPAC do battle over touring Broadway shows. RBC has become the primary indoor arena for large-scale concerts, taking over a role once held by the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

What remains to be seen is whether there's enough business to support all these venues in a sluggish economy that still hasn't pulled out of the recession. But the new downtown amphitheater might be well-timed, given trends in the concert business.

The concert industry is getting smaller, and Walnut Creek is feeling the pinch. The venue earned $18.3 million in revenue during the 2009 season, a 23 percent drop from 2008 - and Walnut Creek's 18 shows were its fewest ever for a season.

With fewer acts on the road capable of drawing arena-size crowds, a smaller amphitheater in an urban setting might be just the thing.

david.menconi@newsobserver.com or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat or 919-829-4759

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